Roger C. Molander, Nuclear Protest Leader, Dies at 71

Excerpts From NYTimes Obituary for Roger C. Molander [1]

Mr. Molander drew from his expertise as a Ph.D. in nuclear engineering to become an influential arms control analyst in the Defense Department and on National Security Council in the Nixon, Ford and Carter administrations. He became frustrated with the slow pace of negotiations with the Russians on nuclear weapons issues, and even more upset with the matter-of-fact approach some colleagues took toward atomic war.

In April 1982, he told The New York Times about a meeting at the Pentagon that helped change his life.

“A Navy captain was saying that people here and in Europe were getting too upset about the consequences of nuclear war,” Mr. Molander recalled. “The captain added that people were talking as if nuclear war would be the end of the world when, in fact, only 500 million people would be killed.”

“Only 500 million people!” Mr. Molander exclaimed. “I remember sitting there and repeating that phrase to myself: ‘Only 500 million people!’ Only one-eighth of the world’s population!”

After the Senate did not ratify the strategic arms limitation treaty signed by President Jimmy Carter in 1979, progress in arms negotiations stalled. The administration of President Ronald Reagan and the Soviet Union were building up armaments.

Mr. Molander doubted that the experts, whom he termed a “technical priesthood,” could alone bridge the gap between the two nations. He concluded that Americans and Russians needed to speak on a human plane as well as a technical one.

“I hope they spend most of their time talking about their kids, their grandchildren, and their friends, and their responsibilities to future generations, instead of all this missile stuff,” he told The Times in May 1982.

Mr. Molander left the government in 1981 to start the grass-roots organization Ground Zero, taking its name from the point immediately below a nuclear explosion. His twin brother, Earl, was deputy director. In the third week of April 1982, Ground Zero organized a vast protest against nuclear war in which as many as a million people participated in about 800 cities and towns.

Events included a “Run for Your Life” race in Winston-Salem, N.C., in which runners started at a “ground zero” marker in the center of town. Signs along the way depicted concentric circles of destruction from a nuclear explosion.

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